Can digital be cheaper as well as better?

Change the cost equation with citizen-focused, agile digital services.


Three out of four federal managers see positive outcomes from digital services—but just 33 percent count cost savings among them. What’s more, nearly one third are unsure of the cost-effectiveness of digital. This is according to a survey from Accenture Federal Services and Government Business Council.

From the Administration’s Digital Government Strategy to convenient self-service models that enable strategic government efficiency, digital can deliver superior customer satisfaction while lowering costs. After all, this is key to why digital is so transformational. So why don’t federal managers believe that they can have their cake and eat it too—when they can with digital services?

It’s time to discover how the iterative development of digital services positions federal agencies to think of spending over time in an entirely new way as they focus on delivering public service for the future.


Incremental development is common in the private sector. Companies release minimum viable products (MVPs) to deliver the “best product for now” instead of “the perfect product for later” with the intention of continually improving the product over time using agile methods based on customer feedback and evolving market demand.

Incremental development is not only for the private sector. The U.S. Digital Services Playbook identifies “agile and iterative practices” as one of 13 key plays to help agencies make the most of their digital services investments. Agile methods can bring significant benefits, helping agencies to:

  • Save money. Lower upfront costs and improve return on investment.

  • Speed results. Realize business benefits sooner through faster time to market.

  • Align resources. Prioritize investment and resources based on customer need.

  • Lower risk. Test product functionality and customer reaction on an ongoing basis.


In a budget-strapped environment, federal agencies typically lock in on upfront costs out of necessity. But with digital service delivery, there is an opportunity to assess the benefit annuity over time in terms of customer service improvement and ongoing cost reduction. If the break-even point has a short enough horizon, the business case is strong. Sometimes it is about spending some money now to start realizing immediate benefits—recognizing that the full benefits will be ultimately delivered incrementally over time.

As the generation raised on digital grows up, digital is going to be a “must-have” not a “nice-to-have” for citizens to access government services. Some would argue that for many citizens who actively use digital channels in their daily lives today, the pendulum is already swinging this way. What is clear is that demographic shifts mean that digital services will pay off over time—sooner than many federal agencies may think.


To get more capabilities faster for less money to realize government efficiency, federal agencies must start thinking differently about digital:

  • Develop the platform. Success demands that agencies have an IT foundation that enables agile delivery capabilities so that they can quickly deliver releases often using modern lightweight architectures.

  • Connect with customers. Agencies need to develop an effective, “outside-in” customer feedback strategy to reliably receive, process and act on customer insight.

  • Align with the mission. Agencies must plan digital services with a mission focus to deflect the highest-cost interactions while driving increased customer satisfaction.

As they do these things, federal managers can put digital services to work—for their agencies, their budgets and for citizens.


A recent study by Government Business Council and Accenture found that 75 percent of federal executives claimed that digital services were affecting their mission positively. However, only 50 percent of respondents thought digital services and tools were cost effective to implement.

Watch this video to see Chris Zinner, managing director, Accenture Federal Services, discuss executives’ concerns about whether digital services and tools provide a return on investment and whether a change in mindset and agile philosophy can lead to improvements in customer satisfaction and delivering public service for the future.

Read our reports Delivering on Digital Government for Government Efficiency and Digital To-Do’s: Serving Citizens and Improving Government Efficiency; and watch our video Government Efficiency: Digital Transformation for a more in-depth look at issues in digital services for government.


Christopher Zinner
Managing Director